[Victor:] Completing our trinity of Community Liaison Goodness, may I introduce Brandon King! He is a Ph.D. student in neuroscience at Brown University, doing fascinating research on brain-computer interfaces (so don’t mess with him, or his army of cyborgs will come and get you. No, I just made that up. He’s as nice and funny as they come). We’re excited to have him on our team! Here’s his introduction in his own words:
I graduated college 2001, the year that journals were just beginning to become available online. So, for the vast majority of my undergraduate existence, I was forced to do the unthinkable: go to libraries and pull articles from the stacks. “I don’t get it. I’m looking for small bits of constantly updated text, so for my uses, the whole library could be replaced by a web page and a search box.” Of course, this was back when saying you read something on the internet was akin to citing facts from a fictional work.
After spending five years in ‘industry’, I decided to return to academia to continue research on brain-computer interfaces. When I discovered that I could download almost any paper on any topic I could imagine, I was like a kid in a candy store. I could hear my Windows machine cry when the indexer hit my “Papers” folder. As I honed in on my eventual project/thesis topic, I began to amass a big collection of PDFs. “No problem,” I thought. “I’ll just sit down for a whole day at some point and organize it all!”
That was when my papers were numbering around 200. After discovering RSS feeds and launching a blog, that number quickly ballooned up into the thousands. As I type this, there are ~3,700 papers in my library. Yes, it is impossible for me to have read them all, but having read at least the abstracts from each, the interplay of all these ideas and the trends in topics over time have played a major role in shaping my understanding of my field of interest.
Did I mention that none of these PDFs have file names? Well, they didn’t, unless you consider sdarticle(122).pdf to be a useful identifier.
As I started working on my project proposal, I knew I had to find some way to keep this mountain of information in order. It should be easy enough to spend a couple hours tediously searching for each paper in one of those ‘reference manager’ programs, right? Or someone must have come up with a really snazzy web app to take care of references, right? Wrong and wrong. At least that’s what I thought until a member of the Mendeley team brought their program to my attention.
Maybe I dismissed it at first because of the beta moniker or the funny name, but as soon as I installed Mendeley and started to play with it, I was hooked. The hours, nay, days, it saved me made it instantly one of my ‘must have’ programs.
I saw huge potential in Mendeley, and started submitting suggestions and bug reports (it was in version 0.5 at the time) and when Victor came to the States to talk with university librarians, we arranged to meet. I walked away thinking Mendeley could easily be a game changer in the same way online journal access changed research.
We came up with the idea of adding the position I am now starting at because realizing the potential of this awesome tool is only possible by engaging the people that are going to use it. Each lab, each researcher, and each student has their own system of compensating for the near Paleolithic Era reference management tools they have access to. To make Mendeley the most useful program out there, we have to get your feedback on how we can better adapt Mendeley to the way YOU work while at the same time gently nudging people away from the status quo in which reference managing is tedious but necessary. I want to make Mendeley as much a source for creating ideas and new connections between ideas as it is for simply managing references. I think one of the unspoken lessons of research is that you have to stop looking at papers as files or a limited set of ideas, and understand instead how the work fits into the topic of interest as a whole. My hope is that Mendeley will allow researchers to bridge old ideas, inspire new ones, and provide a platform for sharing the information that led them to a novel insight. You know. Small goals, like change everything.